Relationship between child pornography and child sexual abuse

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A range of research has been conducted examining the link between viewing child pornography and perpetration of child sexual abuse, and much disagreement persists regarding whether a causal connection has been established.[1][2][3][4] Many studies examine populations incarcerated for possession of child pornography or sexual maltreatment, which may not be representative of those viewing child pornography generally.

Criminal sexual intent[edit]

One perspective is that exposure to child pornography promotes criminal sexual intent that otherwise would not exist. The promotion may take place via material that legitimizes sexual interest in minors. Anonymity (or belief that anonymity exists) may further loosen the internal restraints, facilitated by still or moving images, which makes actual criminal sexual behaviour with children more probable if the person was already sexually motivated toward children, or, by creating new sexual interests in children. The review article states that these are plausible hypotheses,[4] but that there is a lack of clarity as to the general applicability of these mechanisms. The authors also note that, "among some groups of predisposed individuals, easy access to a wide variety of engrossing and high-quality child pornography could serve as a substitute for involvement with actual victims".[4]

Longitudinal study[edit]

A longitudinal study of 341 convicted child molesters in America found that pornography's use correlated significantly with their rate of sexually re-offending. Frequency of pornography use was primarily a further risk factor for higher-risk offenders, when compared with lower-risk offenders, and use of highly deviant pornography correlated with increased recidivism risk for all groups.[5] The majority of men who have been charged with or convicted of child pornography offenses show pedophilic profiles on phallometric testing.[6] A study with a sample of 201 adult male child pornography offenders using police databases examined charges or convictions after the index child pornography offense(s). 56% of the sample had a prior criminal record, 24% had prior contact sexual offenses, and 15% had prior child pornography offenses. One-third were concurrently charged with other crimes at the time they were charged for child pornography offenses. 17% of the sample offended again in some way during this time, and 4% committed a new contact sexual offense. Child pornography offenders with prior criminal records were significantly more likely to offend again in any way during the follow-up period. Child pornography offenders who had committed a prior or concurrent contact sexual offense were the most likely to offend again, either generally or sexually.[7]

Mayo Clinic studies[edit]

According to the Mayo Clinic of the U.S.A., studies and case reports indicate that 30% to 80% of individuals who viewed child pornography and 76% of individuals who were arrested for Internet child pornography had molested a child, however they note that it is difficult to know how many people progress from computerized child pornography to physical acts against children and how many would have progressed to physical acts without the computer being involved.[8]

American Federal Bureau of Prisons[edit]

A study conducted by psychologists at the American Federal Bureau of Prisons has concluded that "many Internet child pornography offenders may be undetected child molesters", finding a slightly higher percentage of molesters among child pornography offenders than the Mayo Clinic study, though they also "cautioned that offenders who volunteer for treatment may differ in their behavior from those who do not seek treatment." The study was withdrawn by Bureau officials from a peer-reviewed journal which had accepted it for publication, due to concerns that the results were not applicable to the general population of offenders.[citation needed] Some researchers argued that the findings "do not necessarily apply to the large and diverse group of adults who have at some point downloaded child pornography, and whose behavior is far too variable to be captured by a single survey".[9] Child protection advocates and psychologists like Fred Berlin, who heads the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma, expressed disapproval over the failure to publish the report.[9] A 1987 report by the U.S.A. National Institute of Justice described "a disturbing correlation" between traders of child pornography and acts of child molestation.[10]

Dissent from Dennis Howitt[edit]

Dennis Howitt (1995) disagrees with such research, explaining the weakness of correlational studies. He argues that "one cannot simply take evidence that offenders use and buy pornography as sufficient to implicate pornography causally in their offending. The most reasonable assessment based on the available research literature is that the relationship between pornography, fantasy and offending is unclear."[11]

Swiss study[edit]

A Swiss study reviewing the criminal record of 231 men who were charged with viewing child pornography found that those without a prior sexual conviction are unlikely to sexually assault a child.[12] The study found that in the 6 years before the 2002 police operation only 1% were known to have committed a hands-on sexual offence and only 1% committed a hands-on sex offence in the 6 years afterwards. The study reinforces previous research that consumers are well-educated and view other types of illegal pornography like acts involving animals and violence as well. Mr. Urbaniok said it should not automatically be assumed that they were a risk for sexually assaulting a child and said: "Our results support the assumption that these consumers, in fact, form a distinct group of sex offenders. Probably, the motivation for consuming child pornography differs from the motivation to physically assault minors. Furthermore, the recidivism rates of 1% for hands-on and 4% for hands-off sex offences were quite low."[12] A 2005 paper by Canadian researchers Michael Seto and Angela Eke found that of 201 men charged with child pornography offences, 24% had committed prior offences of sexual contact and 4% went on to commit subsequent sexual offences after being charged or prosecuted.[12]

Research from The New York Times[edit]

According to The New York Times, "At least some men convicted of sexual abuse say that child pornography from the Internet fueled their urges. In a recent interview, one child sex offender serving a 14-year sentence in a Canadian federal prison said that looking at images online certainly gave him no release from his desires - exactly the opposite: 'Because there is no way I can look at a picture of a child on a video screen and not get turned on by that and want to do something about it.' he said."[9] According to the National District Attorneys Association of America, "In light of the documented link between individuals who view child pornography and individuals who actually molest children, each child pornography case should be viewed as a red flag to the possibility of actual child molestation."[13] John Carr, founding member of the United Kingdom Home Secretary’s Internet Task Force on Child Protection, in a report published by the NCH stated, "Many pedophiles acknowledge that exposure to child abuse images fuels their sexual fantasies and plays an important part in leading them to commit hands-on sexual offenses against children."[3]

More statistics on studies[edit]

Bourke and Hernandez (2009):[14] sample: 155 child pornography offenders
result: 85% (n=131) had admitted to sexually abusing minors.
concern: the Federal Bureau of Prison did not permit this data to be released; sample do not include non-forensic comparison.
Riegel via websites(2004):[14] sample: 290 self-identified "boy-attracted pedosexual males"
result:84% reported viewing it substituted for being with an actual child
84.5% reported the material did not increase their tendency to contact with boys
Endrass et al. (2009) :[14] sample: 231 child pornography offenders in six-year period
result: 3.9%(n=9) showed tendency of recidivism in hand-off offense, 0.8% (n=2) showed in hands-on sex offense (child sexual abuse)
Seto et al. (2006) :[14] sample: 685 sexology patients
result: 61% of child pornography offenders, 35% of child molesters, 13% of sex offenders with adult victims and 22% of general sexology patients without criminal act met the diagnostic criterion for pedophilia.
Webb et al. (2007) :[14] sample: 210 sex offenders
result: no child molesters had previous convictions for possession of child pornography

Taylor's typologies of child pornography offenders[edit]

Taylor et al. (2001) identify six typologies of child pornography offenders.[14]

Typologies Features
Confirmed Collector The individual has a large collection of child pornography which is often meticulously organized.
Confirmed Producer The individual is actively involved in the abuse of children and the images of the abuse are given to others with similar sexual interests.
Sexually Omnivorous The individual may not be primarily interested in child pornography but instead has a pornography collection that depicts a wide range of sexual activities, including child pornography.
Sexually Curious The individual may download a few pictures because of curiosity. This could possibly lead to ongoing involvement in this behavior.
Libertarian The individual downloads child pornography to assert a right to freedom of access to this material.
Entrepreneur The individual creates web sites containing child pornography for financial gain. He may also be involved in other types of pornography.

Taylor et al identify the Confirmed Producer is the only offender who possibly engages in sexual abuse of minor.

Krone's typologies of Internet child pornography offenders[edit]

Krone (2004) identifies nine typologies of child pornography offenders based on three online behavioral factors:[14] 1) the nature of the abuse: indirect to direct 2) the level of networking 3) the level of security employed to avoid detection

Typologies Features
Browser The individual stumbles upon child pornography unintentionally.
Private Fantasy The individual may morph or splice images to create images that are in keeping with their own private fantasies. Usually this is done without the intention of sharing the new images.
Trawler The individual actively seeks child pornography through regular browsers.
Non-Secure Collector The individual actively seeks child pornography through peer-to-peer networks.
Secure Collector The individual actively seeks indiscriminate child pornography through secure networks. This behavior is compulsive in nature.
Distributor The individual may or may not have a sexual interest in child pornography. He may be motivated by the possibility of making money by selling images.
Groomer The individual develops online relationships with children and child pornography may be used to facilitate abuse.
Physical Abuser The individual is actively abusing a child whom he may have met online. Child pornography is used to supplement his sexual craving.
Producer The individual is actively involved in the abuse of children. Further, images of the abuse are given to others with similar sexual interests.

Views on sublimation[edit]

Dr. Milton Diamond from the University of Hawaii shows evidence that "Legalizing child pornography is linked to lower rates of child sex abuse".

Results from the Czech Republic showed, as seen everywhere else studied (Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sweden, USA), that rape and other sex crimes have not increased following the legalization and wide availability of pornography. And most significantly, the incidence of child sex abuse has fallen considerably since 1989, when child pornography became readily accessible – a phenomenon also seen in Denmark and Japan. The findings support the theory that potential sexual offenders use child pornography as a substitute for sex crimes against children. While the authors do not approve of the use of real children in the production or distribution of child pornography, they say that artificially produced materials might serve a purpose."[2] Diamond suggests to provide artificially created child pornography that did not victimize any real children.

"If availability of pornography can reduce sex crimes, it is because the use of certain forms of pornography to certain potential offenders is functionally equivalent to the commission of certain types of sex offences: both satisfy the need for psychosexual stimulants leading to sexual enjoyment and orgasm through masturbation. If these potential offenders have the option, they prefer to use pornography because it is more convenient, unharmful and undangerous. (Kutchinsky, 1994, pp. 21)."[2]

Views on the relation between child pornography law and sexualization of children[edit]

Amy Adler, Associate Professor at the New York University School of Law, presents an analysis of child pornography law in the United States and the social climate in which this body of case law originated. Under this analysis, she argues that child pornography law may promote or even produce what it prohibits. Adler argues that child pornography law and the discourse it generates has redefined the way that we view children and contributes to "the proliferation of the sexual child" (Adler, 2001, pp. 266).[15] The claim is not that children were never sexual to begin with, but rather that the discourse surrounding child pornography has caused us to assume a cultural perspective that alters and emphasizes the sexuality of children. In this way, child pornography law may exacerbate the problem of child pornography and child sexual abuse by directly altering the nature of sexual desire and by socially constructing children as sexual.

"The expansion of child pornography law has opened up a whole arena for the elaborate discussion of children as sexual creatures. Quite simply: Even when a child is pictured as a sexual victim rather than a sexual siren, the child is still pictured as sexual. Child pornography law becomes a vast realm of discourse in which the image of the child as sexual is not only preserved but multiplied (Adler, 2001, pp. 265)."[15]

Adler's claim depends on a particular analysis of the relation between law and culture: law cannot be conceived as "a pure realm, separate from culture" but must be conceived as being "caught in a dialectic with it (Adler, 2001, pp. 255)."[15] Under this analysis, law influences culture and culture influences law. If the culture that law legislates views children as sexual, then so does the law. "In this view, law does not merely invite its own transgression; it reenacts and disseminates the very cultural problem it attacks. (Adler, 2001, pp. 255)."[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Child porn consumers safe from prosecution in the Czech Republic
  2. ^ a b c Diamond, M.; Jozifkova, E.; Weiss, P. (2010). "Pornography and Sex Crimes in the Czech Republic". Archives of Sexual Behavior 40 (5): 1037–1043; discussion 1043–50. doi:10.1007/s10508-010-9696-y. PMID 21116701. 
  3. ^ a b Carr, John (2004). "Child abuse, child pornography and the internet: Executive summary". NCH. 
  4. ^ a b c Wolak, James; David Finkehor; Kimberly Mitchell; Michele Ybarra (February 2008). "Online "Predators" and Their Victims" (PDF). American Psychologist 63 (2): 111–128. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.63.2.111. PMID 18284279. Retrieved 2008-03-07. 
  5. ^ Kingston DA, et al. (2008). "Pornography use and sexual aggression: the impact of frequency and type of pornography use on recidivism among sexual offenders.". Aggress Behav 34 (34): 1–11. doi:10.1002/ab.20250. PMID 18307171. 
  6. ^ Seto, M. C., Cantor, J. M., & Blanchard, R. (2006). Child pornography offenses are a valid diagnostic indicator of pedophilia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115, U.S.A. 610–615.
  7. ^ Seto, M. C., & Eke, A. W. (2005). The criminal histories and later offending of child pornography offenders. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 17, 201–210.
  8. ^ RYAN C. W. HALL; RICHARD C. W. HALL (April 2007). "A Profile of Pedophilia: Definition, Characteristics of Offenders, Recidivism, Treatment Outcomes, and Forensic Issues" (PDF). Mayo Clin Proc 82 (4): 457–471. doi:10.4065/82.4.457. PMID 17418075. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  9. ^ a b c Julian Sher and Benedict Carey (2007-07-19). "Debate on Child Pornography's Link To Molesting". New York Times. 
  10. ^ "Remarks of Arnold I Burns Before the Florida Law Enforcement Committee on Obscenity, Organized Crime and Child Pornography". NCJ 109133. National Institute of Justice. 1987-12-03. 
  11. ^ Howitt, Dennis (1995). "Paedophiles and Sexual Offences against Children," chapter 6. Loughborough University, UK; John Wiley & Sons.
  12. ^ a b c "Study finds no link between child porn and sex abuse". Retrieved 18 July 2012. 
  13. ^ "From Fantasy to Reality: The Link Between Viewing Child Pornography and Molesting Children". Child Sexual Exploitation Update - Volume 1, Number 3, 2004. Archived from the original on 2008-01-11. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g McCarthy, Jennifer A. (2010). The relationship between possessing child pornography and child molestation. United State New York: UMI Dissertations Publishing. pp. n/a. ISBN 9781124120638. 
  15. ^ a b c d Adler, Amy (March 2001). "The Perverse Law of Child Pornography". Columbia Law Review 101 (2): 209–273. doi:10.2307/1123799. Retrieved 2013-03-13.